At the time, Apple said that it had just learned of the vulnerability and was taking the app offline while working on a fix. That fix is ready today in both iOS 12.4 and watchOS 5.3, which means the Walkie-Talkie app is once again available for use.
When disabling the Walkie-Talkie app, Apple didn’t pull it off of Apple Watches, leaving the app intact but rendering it non-functional. Today’s software updates fix the vulnerability and bring the app back online.
Walkie-Talkie was one of the headline features in watchOS 5, released last September. Walkie-Talkie is designed to allow users to communicate with one another using a push to talk function, similar to a real walkie-talkie.
Apple said that it did not believe that the vulnerability in Walkie-Talkie was exploited to spy on anyone, but disabled the feature out of an abundance of caution.
We were just made aware of a vulnerability related to the Walkie-Talkie app on the Apple Watch and have disabled the function as we quickly fix the issue. We apologize to our customers for the inconvenience and will restore the functionality as soon as possible.
Although we are not aware of any use of the vulnerability against a customer and specific conditions and sequences of events are required to exploit it, we take the security and privacy of our customers extremely seriously. We concluded that disabling the app was the right course of action as this bug could allow someone to listen through another customer’s iPhone without consent. We apologize again for this issue and the inconvenience.
Apple was quick to take down the Walkie-Talkie app as it suffered from another eavesdropping bug recently that received major media attention. A serious Group FaceTime bug was discovered back in January, and when exploited, it allowed callers to hear a user’s audio even when the call had not been accepted.
In that situation, Apple did not remove the Group FaceTime feature until it had been publicized, despite the person who discovered the bug having submitted a report days before. Apple fixed the Group FaceTime bug after a week and a half, addressing it in iOS 12.1.4.